Ahmed Kapadia, the man leading synergy Advertising Group, wants Pakistan’s advertising industry to get organized to become a player on world stage!
By: Zeeshan Haider
Q: Synergy’s values and achievements, if any?
A: The word “synergy” means the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual efforts. Synergy also means empowerment, leadership and teamwork. It means that interdependence that helps to achieve is a higher goal than independence. At Synergy we work as a team. Together we are everything, divided we are nothing.
Our biggest achievement is they very creation of this company! Ask at any advertising forum about which agency has come into the mainstream since 1990 in such a big way and the only answer you‘ll get is synergy. There is consensus in advertising industry on some facts and I am glad that our success story is one of them.
There is a long list of awards won by Synergy. The Abby Award 2004 being one of the most high profile awards in the South Asian advertising community is one of them. We were the only indigenous Pakistani advertising agency to have won this award! But awards are no universal barometer of a company’s achievements. There are lots of things we are doing which the corporate world doesn’t know about.
Most people are amazed when they visit our office in Karachi. We have a gymnasium in our office for the employees, which even multinational companies do not have, we have a doctor coming in every week for medical check-up of our staff. We have our own cafeteria and kitchen too. These all are things that were simply unheard of in advertising in Pakistan.
We also have a managerial system that is completely indigenously developed and recognizes the strengths and limitations of Pakistanis as people. Every week we hold a meeting of the Leadership Empowerment Committee (L.E.C) where everybody can say whatever they want to about the company and give suggestions for its improvement. We have a team of around 70 people working in our Karachi office. And there are around 40 in Lahore. We have just recently opened an office in Islamabad, which is rapidly becoming a significant market on the advertising landscape of the country.
However to us success is measured by more things than just the volume of business. This is the primal edge that differentiates Synergy from other advertising agencies. Success in our business is also about the number of successful brands that you have created or the advertising memories you have contributed to the creative history of Pakistani advertising. Giving something in return to the system and the industry is a big achievement too, considering that not many people in our part of the world do that. We want to encourage such behavior which is the hall mark of developed nations. And the best way to do that is by leading through our own behavior.
Synergy the only advertising agency in Pakistan that is publishing a magazine ‘Synergizer’ The magazine stands for its credibility and everyone is praising our effort. We do not talk about ourselves in that magazine; we speak of matters and issues that are important for the industry as a whole. There is a calligrapher, Javed Aslam, in Karachi. He is a free lancer. Nobody has ever cared to promote him. We have published his profile in the advertisement section of our magazine. If he is good why shouldn’t we support him? That is a rule we apply to anything worth promoting in the industry which is why Synergyzer has become the unquestioned and credible voice of the advertising professionals of Pakistan.
Q: Did you come into advertising to make money, fame, or is it your Passion?
A: Call it an accident or a twist of fate. In 1986 I was looking for employment and somebody suggested I should meet Javed Jabbar, who was big name in advertising industry and one of the greatest advertising practitioners produced by Pakistan to date. So when I applied, he hired me as a Client Service Executive. For the first six months, I did not know what was going on. Javed Jabbar was in politics by then and he was away most of the time, this absence of leadership did affect the workings at MNJ and made life hard for new entrants like myself, but it also taught us to be independent and rely only on your own abilities. I stayed in that job till 1989 as I was also doing my MBA in Marketing from IBA. I used to find it difficult to work and study at the same time. Therefore it took me quite some time to complete my MBA.
Since then there has been no looking back. I went over to work at places like Orient Mc Cann Erickson which was becoming Pakistan’s first international affiliated advertising agency after a lull of twenty years or so. I then launched Ever new Concepts – one of the most established advertising agencies of the country in the Karachi market, and finally opened up Synergy. Each time, the rise gets better. I am in advertising today because it is my passion. But now I have reached a stage where it is not my only passion anymore. There are many other (Passions) too. Now the question if I am in advertising for money or fame. I believe if you run after either, it will never come to you. So I have always chosen to focus on the quality of my work and have never chased after either, on both counts. Allah has been more than kind and today I have both in great stock. Alhamdullilah.
Q: Are you happy or otherwise about the way things are in the field of advertising in our country?
A: There is an urgent need for reform. I have seen people in this field who have no idea what exactly advertising ought to be doing and where is the industry heading! I don’t want to take any names, but I do know that there are many agencies being run for the sake of making money only. They have been in the business for so long yet they have never bothered to help the industry – a role that should have naturally come to them. I believe it is wrong to consider advertising simply a business. Because, if you work at it long enough and want to excel in it, it becomes a way of life. And then not to be 100% committed to the profession’s well being is rather unbecoming particularly so if the profession has made you into everything your are – as in my case. That is the bottom line.
Q: Some people think you are a rebel in the advertising realm of Pakistan? Is it so?
A: I am not. But yes I am a straight forward person, who cannot hold back the truth. I am a member of the Executive Council of PAA, which is not doing anything for the industry at present and I believe that I have a moral obligation to point that out. This is what puts me at odds with so many people. Even the interests of the advertising agencies are not protected. Multinationals take care of their agencies, and that’s why they flourish. When Javed jabbar was there, things seemed to be improving. They held major events like Ad Asia in 1989.
I am one of those who are trying to make people in advertising realize that it is important to give something back to the system. By system I mean the advertising industry, which is going nowhere. We need people here who are willing to bring about positive and meaningful changes. I just told you that our agency is bringing out, Synergizer; don’t you think PAA should have thought of publishing something like that? We did in five years, why couldn’t they do in 50 years? We cannot afford to wait any longer. We have gone ahead and taken the initiative to cyber space and have launched www.brandsynario.com, which the first of its kind marketing web portal dedicated to Pakistan.
Ahmed Kapadia, an impatient soul, has built an advertising empire from a scratch. Not happy with the direction of the advertising industry in Pakistan, he laments that corruption is thriving and mediocrity is ruling the industry. A fierce critic of the PAA’s role, the body that represents Pakistan’s advertising as an industry, he is blunt, forthright but optimistic about what the future portends for Pakistani advertising.
Q: Why no ads of Pakistani companies appear on leading international channels like BBC, CNN, Sky news? Don’t you agree with the fact that such ads serve dual purpose: advertise the product and at the same time promote countries of their origin as well?
A: If I have brands that I Export to other countries, I would definitely think about advertising it on an international channel. And the ad would have a theme that has something to do with Pakistan. But if I sell my product in Pakistan only, why would I run my ad on international channels. It won’t bring me any profit. I think the onus of promoting Pakistan internationally is on the Government, the private sector can play a significant but secondary role. The government should be the one to do something to promote our culture and country.
Q: Where do you see Synergy Five years from now? How to do you gauge success?
A: I have a clear vision but only have a vague idea about that, perhaps because I am a true fatalist at heart and firmly believe that everything comes only when Allah ordains it so. All we can do is work towards a goal that we feel is worthwhile and pray to Allah that it works out to our benefit.. We do have an idea where we want to go, but I don’t believe in planning achievements. I believe in crossing the bridge when it comes. My plans are flexible. There are too many things that we want to do at Synergy, but I believe that nothing speaks of achievement better than success so you‘ll have to wait and see.
Q: Who is your role model?
Q: What is being done to improve that advertising sector in Pakistan?
A: In my personal opinion, at this point not much is being done and it is in this inaction that the danger lies.
Q: What should be done?
A: Since the problems of Pakistani advertising are multi-faceted so are the solutions. I have submitted a comprehensive plan to PAA, but I am not too hopeful about anything being done on that, although I am an optimistic person otherwise. To have any meaningful change which translate into hope for a better future we need to rise above ourselves and commit ourselves to long term reform, the benefits of which may not even be realized in our lifetimes.
Q: Something about your personal life…
A: I am the only brother of four sisters. Such boys usually lead a protected life, but I was quite independent even when I was in my early teens. Today I have my mother, wife and three beautiful daughters living with me. I do consider myself an ambitious persons, but my ambitions have nothing to do with fame or money. I believe one is brought into this world for a purpose and to play a role, and I believe in giving one’s best to the world. After achieving all I have till now, I still feel there’s a lot more for me to accomplish.
I like the tremendous amount of talent that exists in Pakistan in terms of human resource, but which is grossly misused. I like the enthusiasm of our talented people. I like straightforward and honest people. I believe one should go for the content instead of form. Contrary to form. Content is everything because it gives the necessary depth and value to ideas, initiatives and efforts.
I dislike mediocrity, which is prevailing in Pakistan. Mediocrity and corruption are related to the thinking of people too, who are not working hard enough, are not focused enough and are not realizing the gravity of the situation. I dislike people with egos and attitudes because it cripples them to point where they feel no remorse nor any need for improvement both of which are essential ingredients for societal renaissance.
Q: Keeping in view all that is happening in the world, as a Pakistani, what do you feel are the challenges facing us as a nation?
A: The main problem facing the Islamic world is lack of leadership. A leader provides direction, creates systems, and gives importance to merit. A major problem is the absence of merit. Only a true selfless, honest and fearless leader can bring merit. The so-called leader here seem to be taking the nation for fools. I firmly believe given the right leadership people can make a difference. It is up to everyone in whatever our sphere of influence to become a productive leader and inspire people by our own actions to bring about a change in their circumstances. If this is achieved it will most definitely trickle upwards and change the destiny of our nation and others like it.
Q: How do you see brand building?
A: Nations that have managed to build brands are ruling the world. If you cannot differentiate between product and brand, then you are trading. There is a big difference between the two. I consider brand building and brand equity an integral part of marketing and advertising.
In Pakistan the concentration is on selling. When you start to sell, you must also build brands. Synergy is a brand; when you hear the name ‘Synergy” you’d have an image of it in your mind. Similarly when you say Nike, you get the image of the personality using Nike.
You see ads like Travel- Asia and you feel like going to those places. Similarly, Pakistan should pay attention on developing its tourists’ attractions. We have all the resources in our country. There is a lot of natural beauty as you go up north. Tourists love to explore those regions. A little concentration on this area would boost our economy.
Q: How do you compare Pakistan’s marketing scene with countries like India or Malaysia?
A: India and Malaysia are way ahead. You must remember how much our television dramas were popular in India once. I went to India in 1992 for a commercial and at that time every body was talking about Pakistani dramas. Then satellite was introduced. Now the whole scenario has changed. Even our channels are playing Indian dramas. India drew is strength from cinema. Pakistani film industry is nothing compared to theirs. Cinema industry, I feel, plays a vital role in promoting one’s culture and country.
Wars are not being fought on the frontier, but on the TV channels. Media is the name of the game. Our basics are not right. The role of our associations is not what it should be. There of course is a lot of talent here, but still there is no development. There is some quality work being done. An example is the ad of Habib Bank that we made. We worked very hard on it and it took us quite some time to bring to perfection. Actually the thing lacking in us is consistency. We do produce quality work, but it’s in bits and pieces. We only need to organize everything.